Fall is a cider opportunity waiting to happen, so I jumped on the chance when Spencer Chambers of Honest Abe Cider offered fresh juice from Big Bear Lake to Los Angeles area homebrewers last October.
Spencer had procured fresh juice from an orchard in Big Bear Lake: enough for his cider house and for sharing with homebrewers in Southern California. I was the first to show up with an empty fermentation vessel ready for action. This was also a chance to pick up some of Spencer's cider.
My six gallon allocation of unpasteurized cider on 13 October 2017 included the following apple varieties: Gravenstein, Pippin, Granny Smith, Starkey Delicious, Fuji and Gala. The pH: 3.5.
The original gravity: 13 Brix/1.053.
I placed the juice and starter in a 59F temperature controlled refrigerator. When the juice cooled, I pitched the yeast starter. The following morning, I oxygenated the juice and fermentation proceeded. On 24 October, I cold crashed on a final gravity of 1.009. On 22 November, I did a closed transfer to a keg. On 28 November, I balanced the flavor by back sweetening with apple juice that I had reserved from the batch provided by Spencer, along with apple juice and maple syrup that I picked up from Trader Joe's. From there, I carbonated the cider. The ABV was a sessionable 4.8%. After a long day's work, it was great to come home and enjoy a sparkling glass of cider while cooking up the night's meal. While the cider flavor was dry, the fresh aromas were white peach, melon and magnolia.
In January of this year, I shared the cider with The Society of Barley Engineers (SBE) in Vista, CA. President Derek Springer had asked me to speak and we agreed on a topic of fermentation alternatives to beer. It was great to share the story of the cider while my friend and fellow SBE member Stan Sisson talked about cider making. The other topics included making hot sauce with Brian Frederick and Chris Banker, and making cheese with Curt Wittenberg. I look forward to putting together a cider from the orchards of Julian next year -- I think the SBE group can point me in the right direction for that adventure.
Inspired by Derek Springer's quest for the ultimate Vienna Lager www.fivebladesbrewing.com/geburtstagsparty-traditional-vienna/, I challenged the Maltose Falcons, and they answered. The Crew: Tom (Jedi Master) Sisolak, Art (The Truth is Out There) Fitzsimmons, Michael (Our Final Hope) Covarrubias, and the Get 'Er Done brew team of Andrew McGrory and Mike Robinson. I have to tell you, if I had to battle Hell on Earth, the skills on this team would offer me intriguing possibilities. The Wednesday prior, I met with Kent Fletcher, who designed this storied 50-gallon HERMS system (and wrote the manual). Kent sported a Maltose Falcons tat that I much admired.
We proceeded to pull together the brew at 8:00 a.m. sharp on 27 August. Let's open the kimono right now: I spent sleepless nights wondering how I was going to lead the team on this amazing Falcons system. The recipe and technical advice from Derek was the inspiration, and I had enjoyed his tasty versions at our Society of Barley Engineers meetings in Vista, CA. Even though this promised to be a white-knuckle ride, I was fascinated by the story of this style and was compelled to brew it.
Fun fact: The Vienna Lager was the outcome of espionage by Anton Dreher of Vienna, who joined Gabriel Sedlmayr from Munich to travel to Burton upon Trent. Together, they squirreled away wort and yeast in a hollowed-out walking stick to analyze the "English method" of making beer. A couple of years later, Anton created the Vienna Lager at Klein-Schwechat Brewery; Gabriel created the Märzen at Spaten. And that is the provenance of Earth's amber lagers. Knowing this kind of thing, wouldn't you be compelled to brew it too? Read about this style in Jeff Alworth's Beer Bible: www.amazon.com/Beer-Bible-Jeff-Alworth/dp/0761168117.
It's only with the support of Derek, Kent, Tom and Art that we were able to pull this one off. Advice and practical assistance from Falcons' Matt Myerhoff and Drew Beechum were key to making this brew A Thing.
Andrew and Mike began brewing together a few months ago. The Dynamic Duo dove into the project every step of the way, including the dough-in. As in almost every brew day, we improvised on ingredients. The all Weyermann grain bill: 96.4% Vienna Malt; 2.4% Melanoidin and 1.2% Carafa III.
Tom measured the hops: 10.25 oz Perle for the 60-minute addition; 6 oz Hallertauer for the 10-minute. He also served as Budget Master, which provided much needed discipline and rigor to our unruly but earnest team. Between you and me, Sean at the Home Wine, Beer and Cheesemaking Shop offered knowledgeable and patient support throughout the brew. If you are looking for the Best Homebrew Shop in Town, shop here and shop often (or your local shop -- support the independents).
If you are wondering about the yeast, Tom, Art, Michael and I went with Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager; Andrew and Mike chose ale yeasts to accommodate the crazy warm weather that has become the new norm in Los Angeles (thanks, Global Warming).
Spent grain went to use, from feeding livestock to making bread.
As a female brewer and Canadian soupmaker, I was inclined to stir the wort during the boil from time to time. The men admitted they had not witnessed this on prior brew days. I used this opportunity to discuss stratification and hot pockets, which they agreed made sense. (When brewing with the Lady Falcons, stirring is de rigueur. Woman = stirring things up. You know you like it!)
The Dynamic Duo confirmed that our original gravity of 1.049 was right on target. You know that the Vienna Lager is a key beer style of Mexico, right? This style came to Mexico in the 1860's when France briefly ruled there. The French embedded an Austrian archduke, Ferdinand Maximilian, as "Mexican Emperor." Unfortunately for Ferdinand, he was executed three years later, but the Austrian brewers he had brought over to Mexico continued brewing the style. (Who on Earth would kill a brewer?!) The tradition lives on in Mexico, and not so much in Vienna. Sam Adams Boston Lager made the style popular in the U.S. (Thanks again, Jeff Alworth, for the intel.)
The ground temperature water was too hot for pitching the yeast, in spite of our cooling efforts. We agreed to pitch at home in cooler climes. It was a fantastic day and, right now, we are all reporting in on our progress. In this heat and high humidity, I am thankful for temperature control, but even much more thankful for a terrific brew and technical support team. Thank you, especially, to Derek Springer for the inspiration.
On a hazy, gray and drizzly June 11, the Lady Falcons flocked to The Home Wine, Beer and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills to brew a Wee Heavy, the strongest of Scottish beers. This is a rich, malty, caramel-forward beer with complex, sip-by-the-fire flavors appropriate for good friends, fine talks and late nights. Our leader was Jenna Bonney. The team included Kyrsten Beidelman, Nancy Gold, Christy Borgman, Jill Updyke, Kerry O'Rear, and me.
Brewing on the Maltose Falcons 50-gallon system is at once comforting for the familiarity yet fraught with responsibility of the excellent outcome.
Nancy Gold prompted us to share our brewing stories as we pulled out the Maris Otter (87%), crystal malt (4%), Scottish carastan (4%), honey malt (2%), melanoiden malt (2%) and chocolate pale malt (1%). Our batch size: 40 gallons. Our lunch: pizza and Big Salad. Provisions and beer were an embarrassment of riches supplied by the team. The most exciting: a blue cheese made by Nancy Gold. Long have I yearned to make cheese, and to my delight, one of the brewers, Kyrsten Beidelman, makes instruction available via Hipcooks Los Angeles. I will be signing up for classes.
One does not simply walk into a Lady Falcons brew day without bling. I was looking for the feel of a vacation and asked Nancy Gold if she could create a set of earrings evocative of the sea from her Ocean Glassworks earring collection. She put them together on the spot!
We emptied and cleaned the mash tun and the Lady Falcons set to boiling the wort. The boil was 90 minutes. At the 60 minute mark, we added 9.1 oz. of Pilgrim hops.
Thanks to Jenna's planning, we each took home five gallons of wort. Lady Face Ale Companie graciously provided fresh Chico strain yeast. To this we added WY1728 Scottish Ale yeast after oxygenating the wort. Original gravity: 1.094. Estimated final gravity: 1.026.
About one week later, my five gallons are fermenting at a cool 56.5 degrees F. Today, I begin the process of slowly raising the temperature to about 70 degrees. My friends and homebrew club members at the Society of Barley Engineers are weighing in on this phase of the fermentation, along with the Lady Falcons. Thank you to Jenna Bonney for an incredible experience, Matt Myerhoff for organizing the brew, Ladyface Ale Companie for sharing fresh yeast, and the the Home Wine, Beer and Cheesemaking Shop for an incredible brew day. And I have a very special set of earrings from Nancy Gold to commemorate the event. And this poster, which appears on our Club wall, sums it up: Alcohol is a Solution . . . to friendship and a maker community.
I woke up early on January 15 to meet up with several members of my homebrew club, the Maltose Falcons, at The Home Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills. Our mission: brew Falconsclaws, our version of Samichlaus, a dark Swiss lager that, at 14%, was once the world's strongest beer produced by Hürlimann Brewery in Zürich. The team: Drew Beechum (captain), Jim Meyer, Donovan Nebreklievski, Craig Shapland, Tom Sisolak, Matt Trumbo, and me.
Drew Beechum (foreground) orchestrated this Falcons brew day. I first met Drew in the summer of 2015 at the National Homebrewer's Conference in San Diego. He and Denny Conn are the authors of one of my favorite homebrew books, Experimental Homebrewing, Mad Science in the Pursuit of Great Beer.
Drew offered us various hop choices and, by popular vote, we selected Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops in addition to Magnum bittering hops. We used 70 lbs. of Weyermann Pilsner malt, 70 lbs. of Weyermann Munich malt, and 0.75 lb. of Weyermann Carafa III Special malt; we mashed in at 150 degrees F for 60 minutes.
The batch size was 29 gallons, produced on the club's 50-gallon system. The boil time was 90 minutes with an original gravity of 1.137. The team pitched in to cover the cost of ingredients and we each walked away with five gallons of wort and fast-beating hearts. Drew instructed us to "pray and wait one year before serving" as the original Samichlaus lager was brewed each year for the Christmas holidays. I don't doubt that every one of us prayed for a vigorous and successful fermentation. As for the one year wait? No.
I cooled the liquid to 45 degrees, pumped in pure oxygen, and pitched SafLager S-189 yeast. When I awoke the next morning, the airlock was burbling like nobody's business and it did feel like Christmas!
On March 24, the beer reached a final gravity of 1.025 (target was 1.020). I performed a closed transfer of the beer from the fermenter to a keg and lagered the beer at 35 degrees F. A few weeks later, I carbonated with C02 and placed the finished beer into the kegerator for dispensing. I had a number of firsts on this brew: first lager (25 ales and ciders up to this point); first use of an Ss Brewing Technologies fermenter (love it); first use of a kegerator; first use of a keg; first experience with C02 carbonation (glad to leave bottle conditioning behind); and first use of a dry yeast. The entire process was a white knuckles thrill. As for the taste, Christmas came early this year in Los Angeles. Cheers and thank you to Drew, our great Falcons brewing team, and the world-class Home Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop.
The short of it: Welcome in spring with a pineapple coconut cider. The essential flavor ingredients: Trader Joe's organic dried pineapple and coconut chips.
For the cider base, I pointed the cart to Trader Joe's refrigerated section and purchased flash-frozen, unfiltered apple juice. Tip: Go for preservative-free apple juice -- no sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. Your best scenario: orchard-pressed cider, but that's not available right now, and this is my way of getting ready for Spring Break!
I placed one gallon of apple juice in my fermenting bucket (after a thorough cleaning and sanitizing), oxygenated the juice, then pitched WLP028 Edinburgh Ale yeast, along with yeast nutrient.
The person serving me at the homebrew shop five minutes from my house was amused that I was buying the yeast for myself and not a phantom bearded man waiting at home. Next time I will go to my usual place, The Home Wine, Beer and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills, about 40 minutes from home (during off-traffic hours).
I placed the pineapple and coconut flavor ingredients in a bag and placed the bag into the bucket.
Time to add the lid, complete with thermowell and airlock.
This little baby went into a temp controlled fermentation chamber/AKA refrigerator, discretely located in my Los Angeles apartment closet.
Special thanks to Chris Banker of The Society of Barley Engineers, my homebrew club in Vista, CA, for the yeast suggestion. And I will always be thankful to Thomas Peters at Belching Beaver in Vista for fermentation vessel management tips (computer fan and Eva-Dry). How will the cider turn out? We'll know in about two weeks or so, about one week into spring.
Are international beer styles a source of confusion for you? Frankly, it’s not easy to get a handle on every style that’s out there. For my part, I kept hearing about “gose” and “gueuze.” I saw these beers at the bottle shop or online and my confusion only grew. When I mentioned gose and gueuze to friends, they seemed to know about one or the other, but not both. Was there a sense of malaise around this topic in the beer universe?
All this got me to wondering:
Are gose and gueuze the same beer?
Are they completely different?
Where do they come from?
What do they have in common?
I found the time, between work at two Los Angeles breweries, to sit down and do some research. I read about the beers in the BJCP Style Guidelines, The Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver, and other resources. I bought and tasted both styles. Here’s what I learned.
Gose is a highly carbonated, tart and fruity wheat ale with a touch of coriander and — believe it or not — salt! It’s a wonderful style, and the beer’s light sea salt aroma reminds me of the summers I spent camping at South Carlsbad State Beach in San Diego County when I was a child.
This medium yellow beer is low on the alcohol scale — under five percent. It’s the perfect beer to drink when you are outside on a warm day reading a book. The high effervescence is restorative — like when your mom gave you a ginger ale to settle your stomach — except so much more delicious. The world is right when you are drinking this beer.
It’s an unfiltered beer, so it’s got that hazy look that’s becoming popular in the beer world right now, especially with IPAs, but don’t look for dramatic hop flavor in this beer — you’ll get next to nothing and very low bitterness. A beer like this relies on tart, fruity acidity to balance out the malts.
On the nose, you’ll discover a bready, sourdough character to balance out the spiciness of the coriander. You’ll taste the fruitiness of pome fruit, stone fruit or lemons in this beer. This beer style originated in the middle ages in the German town of Goslar on the Gose River. I’ve been enjoying Anderson Valley’s Blood Orange Gose, Sierra Nevada Otra Vez with cactus and grapefruit, and Boulevard’s Hibiscus Gose. This is one rough research assignment.
Gueuze is a fruity, highly carbonated wheat ale — these are characteristics in common with the gose. However, they are very different beers. While the gose comes out of Germany, the gueuze was born in and around Brussels in Belgium.
The gueuze is a complex, sour but well-balanced beer that is traditionally created by blending one- , two- and three-year-old lambic. Now, let me tell you about lambic: It’s a funky, wild and sour Belgian wheat beer that is spontaneously fermented. Many people believe that the gueuze, a blend of lambics, provides a more exciting and complex flavor than a lambic.
Clearly, the gueuze is a creative opportunity for a master blender — in that way, it’s a bit like wine. In fact, the gueuze is called “The Champaign of Belgium.” The artful blender has to strike a balance between taste and acidity, all while taking in the technical aspects of getting to that high carbonation that is a hallmark of this style.
The youngest lambic in the blend helps with getting that carbonation going in the gueuze while the older lambic in the blend provides deep complexity and flavor. It’s like sending a child out to play with a professional basketball player and an old coach. Each of the three lambics in the blend has something to offer: the first, youthful vibrancy; the second, a strong and mature body; and the third provides an older, wiser and more mellow contribution. That multi-generational combination is complex — and delicious. After the blending is done, the bottle is laid down for half a year or so . . . or for much longer.
This golden beer is crystal clear and has a thick white head. Let’s talk a bit about the nose on a gueuze. We’re talking barnyard aromatics here, somewhat like cheeses with a washed rind. The taste varies from barrel to barrel and bottle to bottle because, well, we’re dealing with wild fermented yeast. What you are likely to pick up, flavor-wise, is a moderately sour beer that’s in balance with the malt, along with the beguiling barnyard characteristic we talked about in the aroma.
As with the gose, don’t look for much hop action here. The hops, which are often aged, are used mostly to preserve the beer. And, as with the gose, the beer’s acidity will balance out the maltiness of the beer. The gose is a historic beer, and so is the gueuze. The gueuze comes from a farmhouse brewing and blending tradition in Brussels going back for many centuries. Examples of gueuze include Cantillon Gueuze (good luck getting that), Lindemans Gueuze (much easier to find), and Boon Oude Gueuze.
As I discovered, the gose and the gueuze actually have several elements in common: they are both tart, sour wheat beers, and they are highly carbonated and very refreshing. They are both fruity with no hop flavor to speak of, and both are historic styles. And, of course, their names kind of sound alike. If you are unfamiliar with the styles, it’s easy to confuse them. But no longer, now that we have unraveled some of the mysteries of gose and gueuze. If you haven’t explored sours, you might want to start with the gose style and graduate to the gueuze. You’re a grownup — you can handle it, right?
See the accompanying video.
Have you heard about Gose and Gueuze beers? Are they the same? Are they completely different? Where do they come from, and what do they have in common? Watch this short video for the answers.
If you’re a brewmaster, you are very picky about how you make your beer. And you’re especially picky about the beer you buy, because, well . . . you’re an expert.
If you’re not a brewmaster, you can still buy a bottle of beer like an expert. Use these tips to get the freshest, most wonderful bottled beer on the planet, anytime you go to the store. First, though, let’s talk about beer’s enemies.
Be afraid, be very afraid. Let’s talk about when bad things happen to good beer. Beer is meant to be consumed fresh. Sure, you can cellar your beers like fine wine, but beers meant for cellaring are the exception. And that’s off topic today.
What you want is the freshest beer possible. Bottled beer has four silent killers: light, heat, oxygen and time. When shopping for a bottle of beer, we’re looking to avoid these problems. Here’s how.
Tip #1: Shop at a Busy Bottle Shop or Liquor Store
Shop for your beer where you know there’s a brisk turnaround. Beer that’s been sitting around for months — or years — is only getting worse over time. This is especially true for hop-forward beers like that IPA you love. Of course, there are exceptions. In any case, you want to buy from a bottle shop that treats beer with respect. Shops like that are generally the busy ones. Generally, the more fortified the beer — the higher the alcohol by volume (ABV) — the longer it will last on the shelf.
Tip #2: Look in the Refrigerated Section
What you’re looking for is a cold chain of custody: beer that left the brewery cold and stayed cold in transport and distribution and, finally, at the bottle shop. Of course, you can’t see what happened prior to the store you’re in, but you surely don’t want to buy beer that is sitting at room temperature — or worse — warm.
Tip #3: Look for Dark Bottles or, Better Yet, Cans
If ultraviolet light (bright sun or florescent light) strikes a bottle of beer, it causes “skunking.” This leaves the beer tasting like cardboard, cooking sherry or even like the scent of a skunk. If you see bottles of beer stored near a window, shop somewhere else. That beer may not only be skunked, it may have been boiled by the sun. Think about this: When you drink your beer outside in a clear vessel, skunking can happen in as little as 15 seconds.
Brown glass blocks 98% of the wavelengths of light that cause skunking.
Green glass blocks 20%.
Clear glass: 0%.
Best: Cans, ceramic bottles, and bottles in closed cases that completely block light.
Tip #4: Look for a Bottling Date
There’s either a bottling date or a best buy date on an increasing number of quality beers. You don’t know how long the beer has been sitting on the shelf at the bottle shop; the bottles may also have been sitting at the wholesaler or distributor’s location. Generally, a beer is tastiest within a month of being bottled. It may taste good for a few more months, but why not drink the freshest beer possible? Brewers release a beer when it’s ready for drinking — wine makers do the same, by the way. There are exceptions, but that’s what they are: exceptions.
Tip #5: Drink Local Beers
Many of your local breweries make bottled beers available, either at the brewery or local bottle shops. When you buy bottles crafted by local breweries, you are minimizing your risk of spoilage because there’s likely no long-distance travel and no long storage at the wholesaler or distributor. When you support your local breweries, you encourage the brewing community to start additional breweries nearby, and this results in a vibrant beer scene. The outcome: more beer for you and an improved local economy. Besides, you want to support your local brewery, right?
Bonus Tip: Seek the Unusual
As a brewmaster — or a beer aficionado — you are constantly on the search for something new, something you can’t get every day. True beer lovers look to expand their understanding of beer and to gain a more experienced palate. With that quest in mind, look for something like a Kellerbier or an Oud Bruin. You’ll have more fun and you’ll learn something new to share with friends.
See the accompanying video
If you're a brewmaster, you are very picky about how you make your beer. And you're especially picky about the beer you buy, because, well . . . you're an expert. If you're not a brewmaster, you can still buy your bottle of beer like an expert. See this video for tips on how to get the freshest, most wonderful bottled beer on the planet, anytime you go to the store.
With Los Angeles weather at 88 degrees/31 C yesterday, the beer of choice was this dry, refreshing pale ale produced locally by El Segundo Brewing Company. Love the Citra, love the local. #drinklocal #elsegundobrewing #lacraftbeer
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